I have a question for you…
What is the difference between a small-town girl from Appalachia and a Muslim? Sounds like the opener for a bad joke, doesn’t it? But stick with me…and think about it.
What is the difference? Not as much as you’d think.
We both have families. We both have feelings, baggage, opinions, worries. We both have skin and bones, health issues perhaps, concerns about the future. We both need love, just as everyone ever born has an innate need to be loved.
Is that surprising? Is it surprising to realize there are so many similarities or that I personally would find so much in common with a Muslim? Hmm…
Several years ago, I would have probably been insulted if you had suggested that I had anything at all in common with a professing Muslim. Like so, SO many people, in my mind, Muslim was the equivalent of “terrorist”.
A couple of years ago, an Iranian-American (because he tells you how proud he is to have become an American citizen) came to our church to preach and tell us about his mission to plant churches in the Burbank, Califonia area for the tens of thousands of Armenian people there.
I instantly fell in love with Ara Torosian. He’s the sweetest little man and I guess the ever-present smile on his round face is what makes me call him “little”. He’s just a precious person. He came to visit us again this past weekend.
Ara was born in Tehran, Iran to an Armenian family. He never saw a Bible or attended church or had any exposure to a Christian lifestyle. He was on the path to becoming a highly-paid soccer player, but God stepped in and revealed to Ara a different path. How unbelievably good He is!
Ara discovered Jesus on his own, as he explored other religions, trying to sort out for himself the faith of those who were not Muslim. He said what struck him was the love that was spoken of so much in the Bible. He didn’t know that love in his own life, it wasn’t taught or spoken of in his religion. He didn’t have the peace that Jesus promised and that is something he wanted.
Praise God Ara was responsive to the call into ministry! He became a Christian, something that was illegal for him! And he began to talk about that “joy of the Lord” to his family and friends.
When you hear the love and joy in his voice as he talks about how far things have come in his church-planting mission, when he speaks of the huge number of Armenians and Farsi-speaking people living in the L.A./Burbank area who had not one single place to learn about and worship Jesus, you know where his passion lies.
You think he must have had a wonderful life… then you hear the rest of his story. Ara was betrayed to the police in Iran for smuggling Bibles. Betrayed by a friend, then repeatedly tortured to give up more names of fellow Christians, Ara endured much physical and emotional pain. Until he speaks of that time in his life, you would never suspect he had dealt with anything like that. That’s the joy of Jesus that can overcome a painful past. That’s the peace of forgiving the unforgivable through Jesus.
I was so touched when Ara spoke of his love for the Muslim community and his flocks in the churches back in California. When he talked about the fact that he had no problem with a Muslim person…you may think, “Of course not, since he was one before.” but you see, we as Americans, especially as American Christians, should not have a problem with Muslims either. Our issue, as Ara pointed out, is with Islam, not the people. Islam is the problem but we should continue to love the people.
When did we forget about love?
I have attended churches in the past that had such small- and narrow-minded ideas of others. Not just Muslims, but anyone who didn’t act, dress or believe like they did. I was always so uncomfortable with this thought, but couldn’t articulate for myself why it made me feel “icky”. Where exactly is that teaching in the Bible?
Nowhere. Jesus was never exclusive. He called sin “sin” and charged hypocrites with their misdeeds, but he was never hateful to someone merely for being different than Him. Where did we come up with the idea that it’s okay for us to do that?
Just because SOME people who identify as Muslim have done terrible things doesn’t give us the right to write off ALL Muslim people. Have we forgotten the crusades that are always thrown in our faces when we try to talk to non-believers? They were horrible, unthinkable acts of cruelty and murder against others for simply not believing in Jesus.
Read that last sentence again and think about it…how exactly is that different than what Islam seeks to do?
The only difference here is that while the book of Islam actually teaches its readers to do this sort of thing, Jesus does not. Jesus gave Himself over to His murders knowing full well what they were about to do.
Now, do I think we should lay down and let the ideals of Islam go unanswered when confronted with them? No, but I think the discourse should be undertaken with love, not hate, not fear and confusion, not chaos and not in a reactionary way. We have to start doing things differently.
I’m the most NON-international person you’d ever want to meet. I’m the consummate homebody from Kentucky. You may have guessed, if you read about my upcoming trip to Florida…on a plane…when I’ve never EVER flown and never EVER gone so far away by myself, that I’m really NOT the kind of person who is comfortable or knowledgeable about people from other countries or cultures.
Thanks to the internet, I have “met” people of many different backgrounds, many different nationalities and customs. I have not always been very good at accepting or trying to understand the differences, but I am doing my best. We are all descended from Adam, after all. Have you forgotten that? I tend to forget sometimes. We are all brothers and sisters and as such, I believe we should be willing to give grace, to speak in love, to reach out and approach each other with understanding and patience.
I guess I’m trying to say if you have been someone like me, someone raised and taught either in church or at home to hate (or at least STRONGLY dislike) those who are not like you, then you need to re-educate yourself. You need to look again at the scripture you’ve been using to justify your actions and words. You need to assess the attitude of Jesus toward people in general and to mimic that as much as you can! Oh, to be like Jesus! If we could all only keep our focus on Him, what a wonderful world it would be, huh? I guess that’s why there’s a heaven, right? Heh.
I believe the Bible means what it says in John 3:16 “For God so loved THE WORLD that he gave his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER believeth on Him should have everlasting life.” That’s my KJV memorization at work and the emphasis is my own, of course, but let’s don’t lose sight of the impact those words have…THE WHOLE WORLD…WHOSOEVER IN THE WHOLE WORLD…
I am going to link Ara’s Facebook profile here and give you this link to the North American Missions Board, through which Ara works and THIS link is to NAMB’s articles about Ara if you want to learn more or read his testimony. You can donate to help Ara’s church planting mission here. The church Ara started is called Armenian Fellowship Church of Burbank. You can visit the church’s website by clicking the link in the previous sentence. And here’s the link for Ara’s sermon this past weekend at The Creek Church.
I’m so privileged to have met and heard Ara preach. He has surely opened my eyes to the fact that we are all the same on the inside and just because the media only promotes stories of the misdeeds of both Muslims and Christians (and anybody else, for that matter) doesn’t mean I should fear them. They need God’s love just as much as anyone else.
Lord, help me to see with Your eyes and not focus on the outward differences and love people the way You do.
Wanna talk about this? I love to discuss!